By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
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By Richard Connelly
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There were a couple of false starts. One night Page's friends and family had a big send-off, but the next day found Page still stuck in the Waco 'burbs. And he remained stuck, day after day, until finally about two weeks had passed. Miller explained that there were a couple of times he managed to raise the $60, only to see it slip through his fingers because of engine trouble. He believes his Murray just didn't like his hometown. "This thing blows up in Bellmead," he says. "I told her, 'Just let me get out of Bellmead and I'll never bring you back.'
The Murray must have listened because after a few such words of encouragement, Page managed to raise and hold the cash. And finally, on May 30, much like a homesteader would on the eve of leaving for the Oregon Trail, Page hitched up the trailer, fired up the Murray and rode around saying his goodbyes. "I may never come back, so that was important," he explained later.
"And then he told us, 'I'm out,' and at eight o'clock that night we all said 'Bye!' and he was gone," remembered his niece.
There was also that talk of the "Guinness book" with this trip, but whoever told him he had a crack at that with a jaunt as short as this was sadly misinformed. Back in 2001, an Illinois man named Gary Hatter rode a custom-built Kubota in a vast, Continental semicircle, one that stretched a full 14,594.5 miles, from Maine to the West Coast and back to Daytona Beach, Florida. Hatter passed through every state in the lower 48, and for good measure gallivanted off on side trips into Canada and Mexico. (By contrast, Page's trip was only about 700 miles.)
Hatter and Page are eerily similar men in some ways. Both are gearheads, and when they climbed aboard their mowers, both were also 46-year-old ex-cons with both rotten luck and some terrible decisions in their past. (Page's offenses were mostly alcohol-related, while Hatter was convicted of kidnapping an ex-girlfriend.) But that's pretty much where the similarities end. These lawn-mower journeys might as well be two different forms of transport. Hatter's ran on publicity and gasoline while Page's ran on things like desperation, ingenuity and self-reliance. Hatter's was a novelty. This was survival.
Hatter's trip was publicized from the get-go. The whole thing seemed meticulously planned in advance. He sold little checkered flags to raise money for his cause — which was himself. (He needed expensive surgery on his back.) He was feted all along the way with free motel rooms and restaurant dinners. His son followed him in a Chevy as a sort of support team. His brand-new Kubota mower had a roof, for heaven's sake, and Hatter even boasted about never cutting grass on the trip. It may have been a long trip, but it was a joyride compared to what Page put himself through. (When told that Hatter drove a Kubota on his trip, Page dismissed it as a tractor and not a real lawn mower at all.)
First, for Page, Florida was less a destination than it was a direction, a sort of Shangri-La where work would be easy to find and he might finally find permanent peace of mind. The image of Florida you got in talking to Page had a sort of Steinbeck-meets-Will Ferrell, Talladega Nights of Wrath feel to it, with a tinge of Ponce de León's mysticism.
Maybe Page was seeking his own personal Fountain of Youth. Ponce de León would certainly recognize his navigational techniques. Not only did Page not carry a GPS, he learned to get by without even a paper map. He seemed to have no idea how long the journey would take, mentioning once something about "maybe making it to Florida by October." And then there was the whole Talladega thing. Page is a big fan of Ricky Bobby — he even stenciled "I wanna mow fast" on the back of his trailer — but he seemed to have come away from that fictional biopic believing that Talladega was in Florida instead of Alabama. It was not until Page reached French Settlement, Louisiana, east of the Mississippi River, that he was put straight on that geographical misunderstanding.
"He told me he was headed to Talladega, and I asked him if he meant Tallahassee, and he said, 'Yeah, I think that's it,'" chuckles Dan Culler, a Louisiana mechanic and part-time minister. (Eventually, Page settled on Pensacola as his destination, as it was the first major town in Florida.)
Page navigated Texas and the westernmost parts of Louisiana with a faded, rain-tattered, Google Maps printout that showed only interstates and major state highways. As for the rest of the trip, he used no map at all. "He doesn't really have nothing drawn out at all," marveled Culler. "He just talks to people and they tell him the best route to go."
"He's pretty unsure about a lot of things," said Miller. "Wherever the wind pushes him, that's where he goes."
He wasn't whoring himself out to the media, and it almost goes without saying that he didn't Tweet his trip. While he had a cell phone for the duration, he rarely managed to load it with minutes. He braved elements like brutal, unrelenting Dixie heat and sudden cloudbursts with no protection whatsoever. (Asked what he did when it rained, Page laughed and said simply, "Get wet.")
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